a blog by Brian
Amid news that the second, UFC hosted, Madison Square Garden event has struggled to sell tickets, lies a story-line buried a few inches deeper than shoving matches between Michael Bisping and George St. Pierre.
Its bravado, possibly greater than Ronda Rouseys title defense record being on the chopping block. A title fight bathed in back-stage banter, and deeply seeded resentment. A fight for the belt of a division which is mostly overlooked. Yet, Saturday night November 4th, 2017, a little more than forty minutes before Michael Bisping, potentially, steps into the octagon for the final time and George St. Pierre makes his way back inside the cage for the first time since announcing his retirement. Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw finally face each other, in front of a live crowd, in the center of a Octagon-shaped cage.
As many involved in the MMA community know, TJ Dillashaw has been locked in a bitter feud with members of the Urijah Faber lead gym, Team Alpha Male. Almost two years ago, a massive rift pushed its way through the two sides when Dillashaw decided to follow former Team Alpha Male head coach Duane Ludwig to Elevation Fight Team in Denver, Colorado prior to the Dominick Cruz title defense. Ever since that moment in MMA history, the bantamweight division has never been the same.
When Dillashaw left Team Alpha Male, he left an active Urijah Faber, seeking redemption within the bantamweight division against a bitter rival in Dominick Cruz, as well as a streaking Cody Garbrandt. Faber would go on to challenge Dominick Cruz for the very belt Dillashaw lost. It was the trilogy fight. A long running rivalry spanning nine years. A rivalry that fueled any fragment of excitement fans had for the bantamweight division. Cruz won the fight, retaining his belt via unanimous decision. After the fight, Faber, for a moment, began to reminisce on his long standing MMA career. It was a bit heartbreaking to see such a great competitor and ambassador for the sport of MMA speak in such a way after a loss. His words were almost a spoiler for the man they called the, “California Kid” would depart the sport after one more fight and a unanimous decision victory over Brad Pickett (another MMA veteran). Garbrandt, however, had not made his UFC debut when Dillashaw left (or was kicked out, whichever way you may see it).
Garbrandt was two months away from his first UFC fight against, Ultimate Fighter alumni, Marcus Brimage. Up to that point, the current bantamweight champ had finished each and everyone of his five opponents by TKO or KO. The trend didn't stop with Brimage. A well fought bout between both parties, but "No Love" dominated the action and forced Herb Dean to step in with just ten seconds left in the final round. The change in camps, reset the power among the top contenders and changed the dynamic of stars in the division. With Dillashaw out of Sacramento, California, it gave Urijah Faber and Team Alpha Male the ability to market the eventual bantamweight champ with all their might. Faber even gave Garbrandt a shout- out after his failed title challenge, “He’s got a little power (speaking of Cruz’s punching ability)... he’s a heavy hitter, not as heavy as my boy Cody ‘No Love’”. The full hyping power of Urijah Faber and Team Alpha Male was the catalyst for the fight next Saturday night. That, and the undoubtedly impressive run which Garbrandt is currently still riding. 11-0 in competition, 6-0 in the UFC and four of six by way of KO or TKO. A run that brought Garbrandt from unranked to handedly defeating one of the most dominant UFC Champions of all time, Dominick Cruz.
On the other side, entrenched in Denver, Colorado. TJ Dillashaw created his own path back to the belt. The Ultimate Fighter Finalist faced two top contenders since his decision loss to Dominick Cruz. The former bantamweight champion dismantled rising star John Lineker to a decision, after ending Rafael Accunsao’s seven fight win streak at UFC 200.
All this, and some harsh words shared between both camps, set the stage for the Ultimate Fighter Redemption (Season 25) where the two fighters were tasked with coaching opposing teams. At the end of the season, a fight was promised, as is customary with opposing coaches on the Ultimate Fighter television series. Yet, for some reason, this fight is shrouded by other story-lines and generally a lack of interest.
Could it be, the hype behind this fight died down because of Garbrandts back issues, which forced the fight to be moved from a midsummer scheduling to its current November date? Is it the weight class? Did the UFC miss a major marketing opportunity?
It is most likely due to a combination of these factors. There was a significant amount of talk behind this fight in summer, around the time The Ultimate Fighter, was airing. What we also can’t forget, is the ratings behind the bantamweight division. The Ultimate Fighter, has not had bantamweights since Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate cast into public light, the hatred between each other. The next biggest fight, in recent UFC history, would be Urijah Faber v. Dominick Cruz 3. One of the biggest fights in the promotion's bantamweight history, and it was a co-main event. Albeit, the main event was a shocking upset KO victory for Michael Bisping over Luke Rockhold. It still says a lot when the biggest fight and grudge match in the division's history could not get an main event nod. The most egregious of these factors is the lack of marketing spent on this co-main event. Garbrandt v. Dillashaw, has a far better context to it than does any other fight on the UFC 217 card. The sound bites are all there from the Ultimate Fighter, as well as the video. It seems as if it was just a matter of straying away from one of the promotion's biggest PPV draws, pre-Conor McGregor. For whatever reason, the UFC didn’t and here lies another huge fight going under the radar.
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